Current Affairs

The Banality Of Discrimination

The most notable thing about discrimination, whether towards a race or an ethnicity, is the utter, petty banality of it all. In Ireland Irish-speakers experience this on a regular basis (not to mention the institutionalised bigotry rife throughout much of the Irish state) but we’re not the only Gaels forced to deal with it. In Scotland Scottish-speakers face many of the same challenges in their daily lives. From the Lochaber News comes this tale of small-minded prejudice:

“A YOUNG Lochaber musician scooped a top award at an international competition but was unable to cash in on her winnings when her local bank refused to accept her prize cheque – because her name was written in Gaelic!

Hannah MacRae (14), of Lochyside, Fort William, was a member of a group of local musicians and singers who were very successful at the Pan-Celtic International Festival held recently in Carlow Town in Ireland.

The event was attended by 10,000 people and featured competitors from six countries.

The teenager, a third year pupil at Lochaber High School, was the individual winner of the fiddle competition for her age group, earning her a handsome cheque for 100 Euros – which showed her Gaelic name of Hannah NicRath as the payee.

But when Hannah’s mum, Ann-Marie, presented the cheque, along with Hannah’s bank book, at the Fort William branch of Bank of Scotland, the staff studied it before advising that they could not accept it.

Mrs MacRae was told the cheque has to filled in exactly as per the account name on the passbook.

Despite pleas for common sense to prevail – including a request that staff ‘Google’ the name “NicRath” to confirm it is the Gaelicised version of MacRae – senior staff in the branch, although sympathetic, said they were only implementing Edinburgh head office policy.

Mrs MacRae even asked if the branch could email HQ, with a covering letter and a copy of the cheque, explaining the situation, but was told that cheques can actually be returned to customers if their names are shown as “Mc ” instead of “Mac” – or vice versa.

Ironically, the Fort William branch – like so many in the Highlands and islands – proudly emblazons its Gaelic name, Banca na h-Alba, in huge lettering on the side of its 125-year old premises on the town’s High Street.

The bank has also been issuing its own Gaelic chequebooks since 1972.

These points, said Mrs MacRae, were not lost on the local staff.

Meanwhile, further along High Street, the Royal Bank of Scotland – “Banca Rìoghail na h-Alba” – was happily accepting Pan-Celtic cheques from other local artistes who, like Hannah, had won Euros.

Mrs MacRae, who works for a local insurance firm, said: “There’s a point of principle here.

“The Pan-Celtic Festival organisers have paid all the various winners by cheque – in Gaelic – anticipating that two of the major Scottish banks can operate their transactions on a bilingual English-Gaelic basis.

“We know that other prizewinners – from Harris and from Wales for example – were presented with similar cheques to that issued to Hannah.

“It will be interesting to know the policy adopted by their banks.”

Mrs MacRae has now contacted the Pan-Celtic Festival bursar who said he was sorry to hear about the apparent problems with the cheque. A fresh cheque is being made out out, payable to “MacRae”.”

Like some banks (and other businesses) here in Ireland, in Scotland a few companies will adopt Gaelic as a sign of their distinctiveness – while making no real effort to serve the needs of their customers who actually speak in that language. Though, of course, even signs in Irish or Scottish are going too far for some people.

[With thanks to Daithí Mac Lochlainn for the link]

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